How to cure the FOMO plague

When does something warrant being called a plague? If more than half the population suffered from a particular affliction, would it earn the title? If you answered yes, then be warned: there’s a new plague among us.

What is it? FOMO. Don’t be fooled by the cuddly acronym; FOMO — or “fear of missing out” — is plenty unpleasant, and according to a new survey from MyLife.com, 56% of social media users have caught a bad case. Symptoms include feeling “less competent, less autonomous and less connected,” according to another new study, or if you’re looking for a more subjective description of the condition, you can turn to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, which paints this vivid picture of life with FOMO:

“It begins with a pang of envy. Next comes the anxiety, the self-doubt, the gnawing sense of inadequacy. Finally, those feelings fizzle, leaving you full of bilious irritation.” Also, you probably stay up far too late and waste way too much time perusing social media.

The cause

If all this sounds terribly familiar, it’s probably time to throw in the towel and admit you’ve caught FOMO, but what’s causing the condition? Dr. Andrew Przybylski, the University of Essex psychologist behind the recent study outlining the condition’s symptoms, also looked into why so many of us are suffering. He found a couple of culprits: low-quality relationships and our increasing obsession with the idea of a “personal brand.” In other words, professional angst is often the driving factor (though social FOMO is possible as well), with our sense that we’re not fully connected to or appreciated by our colleagues at the root of many cases.

“The workplace is a key area where FOMO is in play. A growing body of research indicates that relationships in workplaces are probably the most important in terms of job satisfaction, life satisfaction and productivity. There are many ways that the workplace can thwart these needs, thereby driving an experience of FOMO,” he told the Telegraph.

The cure

Luckily, FOMO isn’t fatal and it can be combated. Przybylski suggests getting your personal house in order first. That might entail simply switching off more often or setting boundaries on how much time you devote to checking and posting updates at home. “We forget how to be in the moment, and neglect the secret thrill of an experience that is ours alone, not broadcast on the internet. We’re too busy tweeting about the scent of those roses to actually breathe it in,” tuts the Guardian.

Some highly connected techies like Brad Feld are experimenting with a “digital sabbath” during which they power down their devices entirely. If you struggle to do that psychologically, perhaps this technique from another self-confessed FOMO sufferer will help: “What if FOMO meant something else? What if we could inoculate ourselves against its toxic effects by associating it with other concepts entirely? For instance, it could just as easily stand for Fear of Moving On. In which case, when someone asked you, ‘Won’t you have massive FOMO if you don’t go to the rave/gallery opening/block party/bris?’ you could reply, ‘No, I have no fear of moving on.'”

At work, the solution, ironically, may not be connecting less (your boss most likely isn’t going to sign off on that mid-week devices detox) but connecting smarter. If low quality relationships and fear of being inadequately appreciated are to blame, then tackle these root causes — arrange a lunch to connect with your teammates, schedule daily scrum catchup or detail your work in email form or using tools that will handle livestreaming your output without a lot of fretting. By setting up systems to ensure your work is visible and your connections nourished, you’ll hopefully drain professional FOMO of its power.

Post by Jessica Stillman

Jessica Stillman is a semi-nomadic freelance writer (current location: sunny Nicosia, Cyprus) with interests in entrepreneurship, remote collaboration, unconventional career paths and generational differences.

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